The Man Who Fell to Earth

I went past the Bass today, just to check if the Pictish Stones were back you understand. The sign on the gate advised that they would indeed be back in place alongside the Mary Eerie-Orie gravestone by late spring 2018 following much needed restoration and digital scanning. It is now late summer and the twice buried Mary lies quite alone in her grave.

I wrote about Mary in glowing terms in my A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire book. The unfortunate serial spouse was once buried alive after being mistakenly pronounced dead following a short illness. The story is told in many versions. In one, her distraught second husband rescues her when he hears her desperate cries for help coming from the freshly filled grave.
In another version of the tale, the gravedigger spies a gold ring on the corpse’s finger. He tries and fails to remove it by hand and finally resorts to cutting off the unfortunate corpse’s finger with his knife at which point the ‘deceased’ wakes up howling in pain.

Anyway, the trip was not without advantage. In the absence of Pictish remains I set out on a graveyard tour to find the Commonwealth War Graves. There are eleven listed on the CWGC website but, to my surprise I encountered several more unlisted war dead amongst the family gravestones scattered throughout the grounds. A Gordon Highlander who accidentally drowned in May 1918 in the Pas-de-Calais is recalled alongside a lad from Balquhain lost at Beaumont Hamel. Another, a Royal Army Medical Corps private died age 21 in 1915 somewhere in France.

An aviator took my fancy. The inscription on the Laing family stone records that he was killed in combat over Arnaville on August 30 1918 age just 20. A 2nd Lieutenant in the 55th Squadron of the Royal Air Force, he is buried in a local churchyard near where he fell to earth.

A search reveals the following entry on the Next of Kin Project site:

“Thomas Laing from Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, joined the Royal Flying Corps as a bomber pilot. In April 1918 he went to train at the Royal Air Force (RAF) station in Narborough, Leicestershire, where he learnt how to fly his two-seat biplane day bomber. He wrote to his parents every 4 to 5 days, describing the thrill of flying at high altitudes and finally qualifying as a pilot. On 14 August 1918 Laing went on his first flight behind enemy lines, bombing ground targets in Germany. 16 days later he was shot down and killed, aged 21. After his death, Laing’s mother received a letter from his girlfriend. It ends “I keep on remembering little things he said and did. I just loved everything about him”.

Along with the official notification his mother was to receive his flying goggles, identity bracelet and service medals along with an official RAF photograph as a memento of her now dead son.

There are a few signed copies of the first edition of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire available from Inverurie Whisky Shop and more copies  – unsigned of course – are available via The History Press and on Amazon.


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